Rashid Khan was easily one of the best performers in the Indian Premier League that concluded on Sunday. As brilliant and consistent as the 19-year-old Afghan was for Sunrisers Hyderabad during the tournament, there was a moment late last week when he developed cold feet.
His magnificent all-round performance against Kolkata Knight Riders in Qualifier 2 at the Eden Gardens led to batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar tweeting that Rashid, at the moment, is the best T20 bowler in the world. Khan learnt of this tweet when he boarded the team bus post SRH’s win, and was awestruck.
“When I got into the bus, a friend sent me a screenshot of the tweet and I was shocked to see it. I was thinking for like 1-2 hours before I could eventually reply. I really didn’t know what to write, but finally I replied,” Rashid told TOI on Monday.
“The whole of Afghanistan seemed to have seen that tweet. Tendulkar is very, very famous there and everyone was surprised that he had such high praise for me. Statements like these motivate young players and infuse positive energy,” he added.
Rashid, who was adjudged the best T20 bowler at the Ceat awards on Monday night, ended IPL 2018 with 21 wickets, just behind Kings XI’s Andrew Tye, who returned with 24 wickets for the purple cap. And, remarkably, every top-order batsman was troubled by him at some point during the tournament. They simply failed to read his well-disguised googlies, leading to their downfall. Rashid picked out three wickets that were special to him. “Getting rid of Virat (Kohli), AB (de Villiers) and MS Dhoni was very satisfying. In fact, I consider them the best wickets of my career so far. They are really good players of spin bowling so getting them out made it memorable for me.”
The T20 format is ruthless, especially on bowlers, but Rashid believes the key to his success has been his ability stay patient and confident even when batsmen are going after him. “T20s is all about enjoying yourself. The more you enjoy, the better you will perform. The moment you let fear get the better of you, you are in trouble. After all, batsmen will always look to hit you and the challenge for the bowler is how to outsmart them. That’s why I enjoy T20s so much.”
When things are not going according to plan for bowlers, the skipper’s role gains immense importance, and Rashid was all praise for the backing he received from Kane Williamson during the past seven weeks.
“The way he marshalled us was inspirational. He was always listening to his bowlers, offering us advice and seeking our feedback. He’s open to suggestions and that helped a lot. He also led with the bat, so every player in the team wanted to learn from him.”
Afghanistan are set to make their Test debut against India in the middle of June, and this is the one occasion the entire country is looking forward to.
“It’s a big match for us as playing Tests is a dream for every cricket-playing nation. All of us who are selected for that match will consider ourselves lucky. After all, we will be making history. And, it doesn’t get bigger than the fact that we will be playing India in India,” insisted Rashid.
Rashid’s every move is tracked minutely by people back home and he has played no small role in the phenomenal growth of cricket in Afghanistan.
Ask him whether he enjoys the same status that top cricketers enjoy in India, and he says, albeit a little shyly: “As far as I know, after the President of the country, maybe, I am the person who is most popular in Afghanistan.”
Needless to say, things have changed significantly for Rashid over the past couple of years, thanks to his dramatic rise and presence in the various leagues around the world.
“I have not been able to spend too much time with my family, finding myself with them barely for 15 to 20 days,” he said. But, he also believes the sacrifice will be worth it, if he can continue improving his game and delivering the goods for his country.